The Royal Family Has Made Some Controversial Decisions

Anyone who's in the public eye — especially the British royal family — has to consider how their decisions affect their image. While some missteps, like when Prince William fell asleep in church or pretty much anytime a member of the House of Windsor experienced a wardrobe malfunction, simply made us laugh, others have led to more serious controversies. 

Surprisingly, the royals have continued to make terrible choices that land them in hot water. In many cases, they seemed to think they made the right call ... only to get raked over the coals in the court of public opinion. It's a bit puzzling to watch, especially since they're obviously aware they're making said decisions while living in a fishbowl.

Here's a look back at some of the most controversial decisions some members of the royal family have made over the years. From youthful mistakes to serious lapses in judgement, it just goes to show that these Brits don't all live up to their royal titles 24/7. And we can't help but wonder, what were they thinking?

Princess Michael of Kent wore an insensitive brooch

Even with all the rules that the royal family has to follow, it looks like they need to add another one to the list: No. Racist. Jewelry. Princess Michael of Kent, who is the wife Queen Elizabeth II's first cousin, caused quite a stir when she showed up to the Queen's Christmas luncheon at Buckingham Palace wearing a blackamoor brooch in 2017. In case you didn't know, blackamoor is an art style that's known to fetishize or exoticize people of African heritage. Needless to say, the internet was up in arms as soon as the photos of the princess that day were released.

Some speculated whether it was a subtle dig at Meghan Markle, who had just gotten engaged to Prince Harry at the time. Regardless, Princess Michael has historically done a poor job of defending herself against accusations of racism, previously reminding everyone — in a super cringey way — that she is no stranger to Africa. "I traveled on African buses," the princess told ITV1 back in 2004 (via The Guardian). "I wanted to be a writer. I wanted experiences from Cape Town to right up in northern Mozambique. I had this adventure with these absolutely adorable, special people and to call me racist: It's a knife through the heart because I really love these people." 

Fast forward to 2017, Princess Michael apologized for the brooch through her spokesperson, saying she was "very sorry and distressed that it has caused [offense]."

Prince Harry showed up to a party dressed as a Nazi

Prince Harry has never been a stranger to controversy, especially back in his younger days. Probably one of his toughest lessons came in 2005 after he dressed as a Nazi for a friend's costume party (as if that wouldn't end up in the tabloids by morning?). Sure enough, a candid shot of the ginger prince holding a drink and a cigarette while wearing a swastika armband was published on the cover of The Sun, with the headline "Harry the Nazi" (via BBC News). 

The photo sparked outrage from various British Jewish groups, including The Board of Deputies of British Jews, who stated to BBC News: "It was clearly in bad taste, especially in the run-up to holocaust memorial day on the 27th of this month, which the Royal Family will be taking a leading role in commemorating."

Prince Harry issued a statement after the incident, saying, "I am very sorry if I caused any offense or embarrassment to anyone. It was a poor choice of costume and I apologize" (via CNN). The apology seemed to satisfy some, like Rabbi Jonathan Romain, a spokesperson for the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, who said: "Having being given, the apology should now be accepted." Still, others called for the prince to pay a visit to Auschwitz to really understand the history behind the Nazi symbol. While the palace said it was considering the invites, the royals made no plans for a trip.

Prince Charles ordered a drink at age 14 without even thinking about it

While Prince Harry was known for his early public faux pas, his dad was right alongside him in that department. In a 2017 interview with biographer Sally Bedell Smith for Vanity Fair, Prince Charles reminisced about his childhood — which sounds like it involved hunting and a fair amount of booze. He recalled how he once ended up at a pub with friends at the age of 14, and promptly ordered a cherry brandy. The prince explained, "I said the first drink that came into my head, because I'd drunk it before, when it was cold, out shooting." 

A reporter who witnessed the whole thing wrote it up for a tabloid immediately, which caused a big public controversy due to underage drinking and resulted in the firing of the royal bodyguard in charge of young Charles that night — much to the prince's chagrin. "I have never been able to forgive them for doing that," Prince Charles said, adding, "I thought it was the end of the world."

Prince Harry played strip billiards and was caught on camera

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? Well, not always. Back in 2012, Prince Harry took a trip to Las Vegas that unfortunately nobody will ever forget, thanks to scandalous photos obtained by TMZ. According to the tabloid, the prince reportedly invited some women he'd met at a hotel bar up to his suite, and played a game of strip billiards ... only to be caught on camera naked by paparazzi. Of course, TMZ immediately hit up the palace for a reaction to Prince Harry's "bare a** naked" photos, but simply got a terse "no comment" response.

Prince Harry himself, however, owned up to his responsibility for the incident and publicly expressed regret. "At the end of the day I probably let myself down, I let my family down, I let other people down," he said (via The Telegraph). "It was probably a classic example of me probably being too much army, and not enough prince. It's a simple case of that. But I was in a private area and there should be a certain amount of privacy that one should expect."

To settle the privacy issue, the royal family put legal pressure on UK press to not publish the photos, on the grounds that they were not only an invasion of privacy, but a breach of ethical code, according to The Sun — which was the only UK news outlet to publish them anyway.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made some unusually candid remarks

Over a year after their royal wedding, the pressure of the spotlight had taken its toll on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. In their ITV documentary, Harry & Meghan: An African Journey, they revealed their struggle to balance their public and private lives while dealing with scrutiny from the press.

When director Tom Bradby asked about the state of her mental health, Meghan Markle appeared to well up. Calling the ordeal "challenging" and agreeing that she "was not really okay," she added: "Thank you for asking, because not many people have asked if I'm okay." Prince Harry also opened up about what his mother, Princess Diana, went through with the media before her death. "Every time I see a camera, every single time I hear a click, every single time I see a flash, it takes me straight back," he said. "So in that respect, it's the worst reminder of her life as opposed to the best."

The Sussexes drew support from fans and sympathy from Prince William after speaking honestly about how they felt. However, their candor was unusual for royals and ironically led to headlines on the consequences of breaking royal protocol. PR expert Mark Borkowski called the doc a "complete and utter disaster," while royal biographer Penny Junor told The Guardian, "It just feeds the media machine ... It is the very reverse of what [Harry] has said he wants for ... his family, namely, privacy."

Prince Andrew dated an actress who once bared it all

In the early '80s — before he married Sarah Ferguson — a 22-year-old Prince Andrew started dating actress Kathleen "Koo" Stark. According to People, they met at a disco and then started quietly seeing each other. Later, a journalist reported spotting them together on a plane, pushing their previously unpublicized relationship into the spotlight.

It was quickly revealed that Stark once did an erotic shower scene in a film called Emily. Still photos from the movie scene were published at the same time some speculated that she had already met the royal family. In response, the royals issued this brief, tight-lipped statement: "We do not know if the Queen was aware of the girl's acting career before she was invited to Balmoral."

In 2015, Stark wrote in the Mail on Sunday that she was improperly labeled as a "soft porn actress" at the time. "It's as if this hijacking of my identity has overtaken the truth of who I was and who I am," she continued. Stark also asserted that Emily was made by "[members] of the actors' union Equity and therefore, in those days, not part of the 'adult film' industry." She added that the later scandal surrounding Prince Andrew's association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein was also unfair, writing, "I highlight my misfortune to explain that this media 'sexploitation' is what I see happening to Prince Andrew. It's why I feel it is time to speak out."

Sarah Ferguson supposedly let a guy nibble on her toes

Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York who was formerly married to Prince Andrew, must have forgotten that once you're a royal, you're always on the paparazzi's radar. After she and the prince separated, Ferguson made headlines when a photographer's telephoto lens captured her male companion, John Bryan, appearing to suck on her toes as they lounged by the pool.

According to the Mirror, Ferguson and the royal family were told about the photos the night before they were published. Richard Kay, a royal writer for the Daily Mail, reportedly received a message on his pager from Princess Diana, saying, "The redhead's in trouble." He also received a phone call from Bryan, who asked Kay to bring him an early copy of the paper, presumably so he could prepare himself. Kay claimed that Bryan later complained about the characterization of the photos, saying, "I wasn't sucking her toes, I was kissing them!" Fergie, who had been visiting with the royal family at Balmoral when the scandal broke, left with her kids soon afterward. The entire incident started to paint an unflattering picture of the duchess ... and it only got worse, unfortunately.

Fergie appeared to take a bribe and was caught on video

After receiving a reported settlement of $462,000 plus $20,000 a year after divorcing Prince Andrew in 1996, Sarah Ferguson later allegedly claimed that she "hadn't got a pot to piss in." Maybe that's what led her to reportedly meet with a man later described as a "fake sheikh" to strike a deal. The supposed foreign businessman, however, was really undercover Mazher Mahmood for News of the World — and Ferguson was allegedly caught on video offering him access to Prince Andrew in exchange for the rough equivalent of one million dollars in cash.

Needless to say, the conversation brought shame to the royal family and prompted a public apology from Ferguson, who stated to The Guardian: "I very deeply regret the situation and the embarrassment caused. It is true that my financial situation is under stress however, that is no excuse for a serious lapse in judgment and I am very sorry that this has happened. I can confirm that The Duke of York was not aware or involved in any of the discussions that occurred."

That time Prince Harry tried pot

While smoking pot probably isn't the most controversial thing one could do, when you're only 16 and third in line to the British throne at the time ... it's pretty close. Back in 2002, Prince Harry reportedly admitted to his father, Prince Charles, that he had smoked marijuana on "several occasions," according to a palace official who spoke to The Telegraph. The official added, "It is not that he had or has a serious problem, but he did take the drug."

Obviously, the royal family wanted to nip things in the bud, so to speak. According to the palace official, Prince Charles was especially worried. "A large number of heroin users have, over the years and in the course of his work, told the Prince of Wales that they started on cannabis," the official claimed. The family quickly sent Prince Harry to the drug rehab Featherstone Lodge for a day. While he was there, he was assigned a former heroine addict "buddy" to accompany him while other residents at the facility talked to him about their experiences with drugs. 

Afterward, a spokesman for St. James Palace said (via The Telegraph), "This is a serious matter that was resolved within the family and is now in the past and is closed."

Prince Charles had an affair with Camilla Parker Bowles

Once Princess Diana announced her impending divorce from Prince Charles in 1996, the public definitely knew why: She had already given a no-holds-barred interview to Martin Bashir the previous year on the BBC's Panorama, confirming that, at least in her view, her husband had cheated on her. In one surprising moment, when asked if Camilla Parker Bowles was part of the reason for her divorce, the princess responded, "Well there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded." 

The accusation was believable, largely because a private phone conversation between Prince Charles and Parker Bowles was released a month after his separation from the People's Princess in 1993. Recorded in 1989, the tape allegedly revealed their secret relationship — and the content was all kinds of inappropriate. 

Prince Charles also partially admitted to the indiscretion in a 1994 TV documentary interview (via The New York Times). When asked whether he was "faithful and honorable" to his wife during their marriage, he said, "Yes. Until it became irretrievably broken down, us both having tried." He later married Parker Bowles in 2005. His new wife was given the title Duchess of Cornwall, leaving the late Diana to remain the only Princess of Wales.

Princess Diana had an affair with James Hewitt

Even though Prince Charles' affair with Camilla Parker Bowles was well-known, Princess Diana's own affair with James Hewitt seemed to be less so. Nevertheless, she fully acknowledged it. When asked by Martin Bashir on the BBC's Panorama in 1995 if she had been unfaithful with Hewitt, she responded, "Yes, I adored him. Yes, I was in love with him. But I was very let down." 

She went on to detail how Hewitt essentially betrayed her trust by revealing details of their affair to biographer Anna Pasternak for the 1994 book, Princess in Love. "It was very distressing for me that a friend of mine, who I had trusted, made money out of me," she said. "And he'd rung me up 10 days before it arrived in the bookshops to tell me that there was nothing to worry about, and I believed him, stupidly." 

Princess Diana said she was then forced to confront the issue with her young sons, Princes William and Harry, once the details went public. Still, she revealed she would only take partial responsibility for the breakdown of her marriage to Prince Charles: "I'll take half of it, but I won't take any more than that, because it takes two to get in this situation."

Prince Andrew maintained ties to Jeffrey Epstein

One of the biggest royal controversies in recent years has been the fallout from Prince Andrew's past association with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Although Epstein, who was found dead in his jail cell in 2019, was first accused of sexual abuse of a minor in 2005, the Duke of York invited the financier to his daughter's 18th birthday party the following year. Even after Epstein was convicted of soliciting prostitution in 2008, the prince, who was reportedly warned by friends to stop associating with Epstein, stayed at his New York mansion and was photographed taking a Central Park stroll with him two years later.

When asked about his decision to continue these ties in a 2019 BBC interview, Prince Andrew claimed he "wasn't aware" of the original 2005 allegations at the time of his daughter's birthday party. Meanwhile, those 2010 photos were apparently taken when the prince was dissolving their friendship. However, he admittedly went on to stay at Epstein's residence because "it was a convenient place to stay." Prince Andrew also denied ever meeting Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre (née Roberts), who previously claimed she was "forced to have sex with the prince on three occasions" at the age of 17 and produced a photograph of them together. 

Prince Andrew was widely criticized following the "excruciating" interview. With public opinion turning negative and companies and universities cutting ties with the duke, he decided to resign from his royal duties in November 2019.